Farms that continue to comply with the required standards of the Red Tractor scheme will not be affected by a change of approach to inspections.
That was the message from Red Tractor Assurance following complaints from Newry and Armagh MLA William Irwin that “unannounced Red Tractor scheme inspections are unworkable for many part time farmers in Northern Ireland”.
In a statement this week, Red Tractor said: “Businesses found to have a high number of non-conformances, or serious breaches, are now subject to unannounced spot checks as part of a raft of measures being implemented by the assurance body to continue to grow consumer and industry confidence in the scheme.
“Other developments include a £1.5m advertising campaign, and new standards to cover a broader range of farming systems.”
Red Tractor said all members “should be complying with the scheme’s standards and those that do have nothing to fear.”
CEO Jim Moseley said: “Our goal is for every member to meet every standard every day, which is a tall order but one we must achieve if Red Tractor is to remain the industry leading food and farming assurance scheme.
“Only farms which record significant breaches of the standards – either in nature or number – during a routine audit will be due an additional, unannounced spot check. For those who are compliant, it’s business as usual.”
Farms with a high number of non-conformances or serious breaches are asked to complete a questionnaire outlining biosecurity requirements and any additional information to help the certification body ensure that these audits take place at a time that maximises the chance of someone being available.
Mr Moseley added: “We’ve listened to feedback that many Northern Irish farms will not always have someone on site to allow an unannounced audit to take place.
“We’ve taken this feedback seriously and will continue to balance the market and the scheme’s desire for unannounced audits with the constraints of smaller, single-operator farms. To date we haven’t had a single unannounced audit that couldn’t take place.”
A webinar on FAQs is available at assurance.redtractor.org.uk/media/videos